Level II Body Armor – How it’s made, and what it stops

Have you ever seen the different ratings on body armor and wondered what they mean? After all, it’s pretty important to understand what that body armor can protect you from.

According to the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), level II body armor must be tested to stop a 124 gr 9mm Full Metal Jacket round at 1305 ft per second. It must also be tested to stop a .357 Magnum Jacketed Soft Point weighing 158 gr at a velocity of 1430 ft per second.

Level II body armor is considered by most professionals to be the lowest acceptable level of body armor that you should wear. If you happen to see level IIa body armor out there you need to know that it provides LESS protection than level II body armor and should be avoided if possible.

What Does Level II Body Armor Protect Against?

As we stated before, the NIJ requires level II armor to stop up to a .357 Magnum round. This means that it will also stop all pistol rounds that are less powerful.

Level II armor is capable of defeating most pistol rounds. These include the .357 Magnum, 9mm, .40 S&W, .45 ACP & .38 Special.

Keep in mind that certain very high-velocity rounds can still penetrate level II body armor. This includes some of the previously listed rounds when they’re fired from a submachinegun length barrel and all rifle rounds.

Body Armor Level Effective Against These Calibers
II-A 9 mm FMJ (Full Metal Jacket) at ~1,090 fps

.40 S&W Full Metal Jacket at 1,025 fps

II 9 mm FMJ, at ~1,175 fps

.357 JSP at ~1,400 fps

III-A 9 mm FMJ at ~1,400 fps

.44 Magnum Semi-Jacketed Hollow Point at ~1,400 fps

What Is Level II Body Armor Designed For?

Level II body armor is soft armor primarily designed for concealed applications where low weight and flexibility are more important than protection. This means it’s perfect for carrying in a backpack or briefcase so you can covertly incorporate some level of body armor into your everyday carry.

When you’re choosing body armor, you have to always consider the threat that you’re most likely to encounter. In this case, if traditional pistol calibers are the most likely threat that you’re going to face, then level II body armor is a good choice for you.

If you’re expecting to encounter rifle fire, you’re going to need to look for body armor that provides more protection.

AR 500 Armor and Spartan Armor Systems both sell high-quality armor of all types.

Does Level II Body Armor Protect Against Anything Other than Bullets?

Level II body armor isn’t specifically designed to protect against anything other than the bullets listed in the NIJ standard, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t protect you from something other than bullets.

Kevlar and other ballistic materials are very good at stopping the fragmentation from things like explosions. The fibers work in a similar way to how they stop a bullet.

This reason alone makes it a good idea to have soft armor under heavier armor plates if it’s likely that you may encounter IEDs and other explosive devices. It primarily applies to those in the military, but in a scenario where there is no longer rule of law in the U.S., it may make sense for everyone.

Most level II armor isn’t rated for slash or stab protection either. There is normally a layer of chain mail or laminate material in body armor that is designed to stop knife or spike attacks. Level II armor will usually resist slashing attacks pretty well, but stabbing attacks can sometimes pass straight through it.

If you need both ballistic protection and bladed protection, then you should look for body armor that combines the two types of protection and is certified to stop those threats.

How Does Level II Body Armor Work?

Level II body armor stop bullets by slowing it down and rapidly draining it of energy. Its design of tightly woven synthetic fibers allows it to retain its flexibility and still be remarkably strong.

Even though the fibers are strong, their protective levels can decrease rapidly after being shot. Most manufacturers claim their level II body armor is capable of protecting from multiple strikes. You should know that the armor does become compromised to at least some degree.

As level II armor is soft, there is also a lot of blunt force that is transferred through to the wearer. This blunt force can actually be fatal if you get struck in the right spot. This can be prevented by adding trauma plates over vital organs.

What Is Level II Body Armor Made Of?

Level II body armor is designed using modern ballistic materials like Kevlar and Spectra.

If an armor panel is made of Kevlar it will normally be tightly woven in a simple pattern and interlaced with more material as the panel is built. Spectra is normally not woven like Kevlar. Instead, the fibers are laid out parallel to one another and then laminated into sheets.

The bare ballistic material is then put inside an outer shell. These sleeves don’t provide any addition to the protection level of the armor but some are designed to catch any fragments that may come free when the bullet strikes.

Is Level II Body Armor Legal?

This is where I need to give the obligatory disclaimer…I’m not a lawyer so only use this section as a guide. It is not legal advice.

Level II Body Armor Legality in the United States: In the United States it is illegal to possess body armor if you are a convicted felon. In Connecticut, it is illegal to ship body armor meaning that all sales must be made face to face. Many other states have made it a felony to commit a violent crime while wearing body armor. Others have made it illegal to wear body armor on school grounds. Check your local laws to be sure!

There has been some talk among politicians in the U.S. about making body armor illegal.

Level II Body Armor Legality in Canada: In Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, and Nova Scotia a license is required to possess body armor. In the remaining provinces, there are no restrictions.

Level II Body Armor Legality in the UK: In the United Kingdom, there are currently no legal restrictions on the purchase and ownership of body armor.

Level II Body Armor Legality in Australia: In Australia, it is illegal to possess body armor without proper authorization in South Australia, Victoria, Northern Territory, ACT, Queensland, and New South Wales.

How do You Choose What Type of Armor you Should Buy?

The first thing you should do when buying body armor is to decide what type of threat you’re most likely to encounter.

  • Are you going to be facing pistol fire or rifle fire?
  • Do you need knife or spike protection?
  • Is it okay if others know that you’re wearing body armor?

These are all questions you should ask yourself. With society’s sensitivity to anything that looks scary, you should give serious consideration to if you should be out in public wearing body armor. It may not be illegal, but it could freak people out and cause you an unnecessary headache.

Related Questions

What is soft body armor? Level II and soft body armor often refer to the same thing. When someone is discussing soft body armor they simply mean armor that can flex with the wearer. It can be level IIa, level II, and some level IIIa armor.

Does level II body armor expire? Level II body armor does have a shelf life. This is normally around 5 years after the date of manufacture. The armor will often be good for longer than that but companies have to err on the safe side when life is at risk.

How much does level II body armor weigh? Level II body armor is very lightweight. Its exact weight will vary based on the manufacturer but most level II armor panels will only weigh around 1.5 lbs each.

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